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Thousands Worldwide Rally Against War

Marchers also gathered in cities throughout the U.S. Crowds generally were smaller than ones for protests on eve of hostilities last year.

March 21, 2004|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Thousands of people across the nation and throughout the world staged protests Saturday against the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, marking the war's anniversary. Many called for the immediate removal of all U.S. troops.

Demonstrations were held in scores of American cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and in Crawford, Texas, the site of President Bush's ranch, organizers said. Around the word, large gatherings were held in Rome, Madrid and other cities.

None of the marches matched the size of similar events last year, on the eve of the war, but organizers predicted future rallies would attract more people, especially at the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer in Boston and New York.

"Some people thought the antiwar movement was going away, and today's turnout shows how wrong they were," said Bill Dobbs, a director of United for Peace and Justice, one of two coalitions that organized the nationwide demonstrations. "We're as strong as ever, and we're going to keep the political pressure on President Bush."

In New York, the nation's largest demonstration drew thousands onto Madison Avenue, according to police. Organizers said the noisy crowd, which packed 40 blocks as it moved through midtown, was close to 100,000; police put the estimate at 30,000.

"I came here from Summit, N.J., to speak out against this insane, stupid war," said family therapist Ken Dolan-Delvecchio, holding a sign reading "Bush Is A War Criminal." American policies in the Middle East, he said, "are bringing the whole world closer to war. The administration has lied to us about nearly everything."

Delvecchio's comments were momentarily drowned out by "The Raging Grannies," eight women who chanted rap lyrics a cappella as they stood on a makeshift platform facing the noisy crowd. "Look at what they just did in Spain," they chanted, "what we need is a leader with a brain."

Many marchers mentioned the recent Madrid terrorist bombings, and praised the Spanish people for ousting a government that had sent troops to Iraq.

"Our government has been wrong on all of the important issues," said Marlene Littwin, a retired social worker from Manhattan. "Saddam had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and we're inviting the same kind of terrorist acts that happened in Spain," she said. "We need to wake up."

Police in riot gear monitored the demonstrations, requiring marchers to stay within metal barriers as they wound through the streets. The barriers were needed to keep order, officials said, but the metal partitions led to violence at a much larger antiwar demonstration last year in New York, in which hundreds of demonstrators were arrested and 17 police officers were injured in street scuffles.

"We are here to assist them [demonstrators] and to facilitate free speech," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who visited the demonstration with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and kept in touch with officers monitoring the march throughout the day. "We want it to remain orderly, and we are prepared for any contingency, but our primary function is to facilitate this march and allow the demonstration to go forward."

Dozens of speakers -- ranging from Muslim activists and Haitian protestors to Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio -- exhorted the crowd to keep protesting Bush's policies and focus on the nation's domestic needs.

"We hear reports that one out of every six teachers in this country doesn't have any textbooks for their classes," said Alexa Bobe, a Virginia high school organizer with ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which co-sponsored the march.

"So we have to end this occupation. We could buy 1.4 billion textbooks instead of spending $87 billion to continue the American carnage in Iraq," she added.

In San Francisco, home to some of the country's largest prewar protests, thousands turned out for a march that wended its way through the city's Mission District to the Civic Center.

Sentiment against the Bush administration was strong, but with bands and a multitude of eye-grabbing costumes, the march had a festive air.

"There's not that sense of intense anger that there was earlier," said Michael Schumann, 43, a software architect who lives in Brisbane, south of San Francisco. "We've had a year to get used to it I guess."

John Quigley, a retired judge who traveled from Napa with his wife and two friends to participate, said he felt that the march had been lent a different tenor by the events of the last year.

"Last year we were outraged. This year our fears have been vindicated," said Quigley, 77, resplendent along with his wife, Jessie, in antiwar buttons.

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